Go SLOW to Go Fast

Last weekend, I watched the movie “Second Chances,” an uplifting tale of a little girl's physical and emotional reawakening after a car crash claims the life of her father, and leaves her unable to walk without crutches. In the movie, Sunny bonds with a crippled horse, and together they begin to walk, even run, together again.

However, throughout the film, the horse trainer and her coach warned Sunny and another young girl about the importance of warming up their horses, starting them out slowly before racing their horses around the barrels at top speed. Many horses spend most of their time in stalls, where they have little opportunity to move around. When they are taken out for exercise or a training session, the first thing they need to do is simply get their bodies moving. If this step is skipped, the horse can be injured.

Well, by now, you know how my mind works, and I started thinking about practice time. Is it possible that we charge ahead into a new tune, like rodeo horses racing around the barrels, attempting to strum or hammer a tune at the correct tempo (or even faster), and completely miss building the foundation needed to eventually perform the piece well? I’ve been guilty of this, and I bet I’m not the only one. So here are some of the benefits of SLOW practice.

  • You can tweak details. When you are going slowly, you tend to hear more spots that need tweaking, polishing, and repeating until it is played accurately.

  • You are more mindful. When you are practicing in slow motion, you are more fully engaged with the notes being played, the mechanics of how to get the best tone from your instrument, the emotions you want to express, chord progressions, and rhythm features.

  • You are cultivating right habits. If you start by playing slowly and correctly, when you gradually increase the tempo to the right speed, you are still playing the right way. Otherwise, you could develop bad habits that are hard to break. 

  • You reinforce correct motor movements. I have many times encouraged you to practice a tune over and over until muscle memory takes over and you can focus more on expression. Slow practice embeds proper muscle movements into your memory bank.

  • You can always go backwards. Slow practice is a good tool for your practice toolbox, but sometimes you may start off pretty fast at a jam session, learning a new tune on the fly. You can always relearn at home alone, working it out measure by measure, phrase by phrase, at a slower pace.

Over the years I’ve learned that I can learn to play anything I choose, if I just begin at a slow enough tempo at the beginning — usually half tempo or slower — to fully understand the rhythms, chords, pitches and dynamics of a piece. Then I love to stand up in the stirrups, yell, “Giddyup!” and take off at top speed! How about you?

Happy dulcimering,



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